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Jack Huckel


When The U.S. Played by the FIFA Calendar

Written by on January 12, 2012 | 6 Comments »
Posted in History and Books, MLS

Yes, we did! The American Soccer League played on the FIFA calendar, beginning the competitive year in September and concluding the season in May.

Using the well-researched, exquisitely detailed and documented Bethlehem Steel website, one can track the seasons of that perennial champion. The typical game schedule over the years included Christmas Day and New Year’s Day matches.

As one might imagine, not every scheduled game was played. For example the January 1, 1927 match was canceled “…because of the bad condition of the field. Every effort was made to put the ice-covered field in shape for the game. Steel harrows, scrapers and even picks and shovels were tried to make the ground fit for the contest, but the local management was compelled to call the game off. Sheets of ice and water have rendered the field unfit and dangerous.”

An overview of the years the team operated, from 1909 to 1930, shows there were, on average, one or two games postponed each year.

So, could Major League Soccer adopt the FIFA calendar, as Sepp Blatter has suggested?

The history indicates that it is possible. If the teams of the American Soccer League could play through the winter months in the Northeast, it seems entirely reasonable to think today’s teams could do the same.

Today’s pitches are constructed with subsurface heating systems, sophisticated coverings, and well-trained grounds crews, so the fields, the primary reason for cancelled matches in the teens and 20s, could be maintained well and field cancellations minimized.

The big challenge for today’s clubs is: Would the fans turn out on a 20-degree day in January?

They turn out in England and Scotland for winter games as do our diehard NFL fans. For these leagues the cold weather games are a long tradition and, in fact, the matches during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday are some of the best attended.

Are soccer fans in the United States and Canada any less hardy?

Probably not, but is that the right question? Are today’s MLS fans so committed to their respective clubs that the league could maintain the record per game attendance it set in 2011? Each one of us will form our own conclusion about that question.

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6 responses to “When The U.S. Played by the FIFA Calendar”

  1. John Bladen says:

    Jack, I didn’t know the old ASL played through the winter, thanks.

    Matches were sometimes cancelled in the first division in England during the winter right through the 1980s. It was rare, but waterlogged or frozen pitch cancellations did happen, and given that small footprint of that nation often in bunches. They still do in the lower leagues, where monsoon quality drainage and multimillion pound heating systems aren’t the norm.

    In my view, one of the strengths of MLS is it’s summer schedule. It suffers badly enough on the exposure front when it is going up against foreign leagues now available on tv here. Imagine if it’s entire schedule was played directly opposite the EPL/La Liga and Serie A? As it is, many fans ignore our league until May, then follow through the summer (not easy in places like Dallas/Houston, thanks to appalling scheduling decisions that see these teams playing afternoon home games in August…). Some fans stick with MLS through the early autumn and playoffs, whereas others return to their primary interests (some, of course, do both).

    Lastly, when MLS was a smaller league (occupying part of the US NE, SW and great lakes, roughly speaking), it might have been possible to move to a winter schedule (with some very careful scheduling required). With the new expanded footprint, it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t be an economic disaster for the league.

  2. rdm says:

    I always found it odd that an obviously summer sport as soccer is (at least as far as growing up in North America is concerned) was played primarily in the winter over in Europe.

  3. wengler says:

    Growing up in Oklahoma, we had fall and spring seasons with the same team. Playing soccer in the summer in states like Oklahoma and Texas is as foolish as playing in the wintertime in New England or Canada.

    I think MLS has tried to maximize the calendar spot in late June and July when only baseball is going on. I don’t think it’s a great strategy, in that it is trying to bring fans of other sports in a ‘sport of last resort’ way instead of building it as its own entity. It would be great if they could suspend the league for a month or so over the summer and just do exhibitions instead of treating regular season games like afterthoughts as they do now.

  4. PZ says:

    Gonna be a bit pedantic here but, there was no FIFA Calender back in the ASL days. FIFA did not block off international dates. Yes, the ASL played in the winter, but that’s not a ‘FIFA Calender. In order for MLS to follow the FIFA Calender they simply need to stop scheduling matches on dates when top players will be away for international duty. The league is getting close to realizing that. I wish people would stop insisting the league switch. I like it the way it is.

    Oh, one other thing; can you name me one MLS team which has a pitch with undersoil heating? Personally, I’d rather they spend the money it would take to install that on players. Teams have a tough enough time selling the stadiums out when the weather is nice…why make it worse playing in poor weather?

  5. Rhywun says:

    Soccer doesn’t strike me in any way as a “summer sport”. Where I’m from (NY), the summers are disgustingly hot and humid – I can’t imagine playing in that weather let alone watching it. I go to see the spring and fall matches – and leave the summer matches for TV.

  6. Ed Gomes says:

    I love soccer and watched as many matches as possible. Granted its hard for me to say anything since I still don’t follow the MLS.
    In this country the MLS can not go up against the NFL.
    They can go up against Baseball due to their long and lazy schedule.
    I know that in this country, mostly due to European fanaticism, people tend to treat soccer fans like hockey fans. A very loyal fan base that only watches their sport.
    I like to think that soccer is bigger than that. At least it is for me.

    The MLS nees to grow the league with young American and foreign players. Why isn’t the MLS raiding foreign young talent. Yes its hard for them to compete with European “selling” leagues/clubs, but the off-setting schedule just might help.
    Bringing in aging stars that don’t give their all will only hurt the game in the long run. Am I the only one that found it odd that Henry was so out of shape to play for Arsenal? They didn’t say he was tired, they said he wasn’t in game shape. Huge difference.

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